PEI

1st-place Islanders resume practice as season remains stalled

The Charlottetown Islanders are one of the best teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, but right now they have no way to show it.

Games cancelled this weekend

Captain Brett Budgell, from left, Ryan Maynard, Noah Laaouan and Keiran Gallant listen to instructions Wednesday during the Islanders' first practice since the holiday break. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The Charlottetown Islanders are one of the best teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, but right now they have no way to show it.

The Islanders' games this weekend against the Cape Breton Eagles have been cancelled due to travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Islanders haven't played since the Atlantic bubble was suspended in November,  and it's uncertain when they'll play again.

New Brunswick, which has three teams in the league, has 317 active cases of COVID-19 and has tightened restrictions.

"We're in a state of flux right now in terms of when we'll return to play," said Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton.

"This week's announcement of the cancellation is just kind of a continuation of what we've gone through, probably a little bit easier since we haven't played since the end of November."

Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton has made some recent trades to bolster the first-place team. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The Islanders have only played against the other five Maritime teams this season, but their record of 12-2 is good for a share of first place in the 18-team league.

They bolstered their lineup with a series of recent trades, including ones in which they acquired high-scoring centre Patrick Guay and Braedon Virtue from the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

As they continue their 14-day isolation periods, other members of the team began practising again Wednesday after the holiday break.

Keiran Gallant, from left, Patrick LeBlanc and Lukas Cormier take a break from practice Wednesday. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The players said while not being able to compete is difficult, they continue to focus on training. Defenceman Noah Laaouan said morale remains high.

"You definitely get a lot closer, you probably spend a lot more time together around the rink and stuff like that because a lot of the time those are the only people you really get to see with all the restrictions and stuff like that."

A spokesperson with the league said it's looking at resuming games between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia teams and plans to make a further announcement later this week.

Noah Laaouan says the pandemic has brought the team closer. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Hulton said all they can do is wait and be ready whenever the next game comes.

"I think the one thing this pandemic has taught all of us is to be flexible and be fluid with your planning and I think our team has been a great example of that," he said.

"We've had a number of players just finishing their mandatory quarantine after returning from Christmas, so the extra practice time is a good thing at this time."

The players say until they get word on their next game, their focus will be on training. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Brittany Spencer

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